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Safe Baby Sleep or Hatchet Job?

Baby Sleeps with Knive - Milwaukee Launches Controversial Ad Campaign

Baby Sleeps with Knive - Milwaukee Launches Controversial Ad Campaign


This is the latest safe-sleep ad campaign from the city officials of Milwaukee. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that the blogsphere is going to blow up over this one. Although I do happen to BE a rocket scientist.

As a general rule I try to stay away from the co-sleeping yay or nay discussion mostly because I’m afraid that the pro-co-sleeping contingent will figure out where I live and then we will be forced to move. But to be clear, my official stance on co-sleeping is:
A) It’s OK if YOU’RE happy with it.
B) You’re willing to do it SAFELY.

As for the ad-campaign regardless of your opinion about it, you have to acknowledge that by any advertising measure it is immensely effective. It’s gone viral, it’s memorable, it’s thought-provoking, and it may just be shocking enough to get people to change their behavior (time will tell.)

But nobody is talking about its merits as a marketing tool because we’ll be so busy arguing about the anti-co-sleeping message.

But let’s put that aside for a second and reflect on some horrifying facts here.

Horrifying Stats About Milwaukee

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Thus a baby born in Milwaukee is over 3X more likely to succumb to SIDS than an average American baby.

So before we get all high and mighty on our Pro Dr. Sears Attachment Parenting horses, take a minute to consider what a catastrophic problem Milwaukee families, healthcare providers, and government officials are facing. The stories and statistics of loss are staggering. And the experts THERE believe that unsafe bedsharing is a significant problem. This is not an advertisement for AMERICA, it’s for MILWAUKEE.

Clearly the much bigger problem in Milwaukee is premature birth which is linked to poverty and the unavailability of affordable prenatal care. This is a billion dollar problem that will take time and money to tackle (and I’m guessing Milwaukee has neither). So the city health officials are targeting the #2 contributor to infant mortality via making safer sleeping choices because it doesn’t cost the city scarce tax dollars. Does this make them villains or just practical?

Oh I know, there are going to be million posts published tomorrow decrying the ad-campaign and raising the “Yay Co-Sleeping” battle cry. And by coming out in support of this campaign I risk being ostracized by friends and neighbors alike (Vermont is mecca for attachment parenting types). But here is the ugly co-sleeping truth that nobody wants to cop to:

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  • The American Academy of Pediatrics does not support co-sleeping. People like to barf all over them as though the AAP is a bunch of hippies who got lost on the way home from the latest Phish concert. I’m not suggesting that the APP is infallible, but when in doubt, why not give 60,000 pediatricians the benefit of the doubt?
  • The strongest supporter in the medical community of co-sleeping has been James J. McKenna, PhD at Notre Dame. His book, Sleeping with Your Baby should be required reading for ANYBODY who is or plans to co-sleep.He talks at length about safe co-sleeping complete with pictures/diagrams.
  • Smart, caring, well-informed families participate in UNSAFE CO-SLEEPING ALL THE TIME. I’ve seen it many MANY times. Don’t believe me? Check out this 2008 study from the Journal of Pediatrics that found that over 1/3 of parents who DID co-sleep were engaged in unsafe behavior while co-sleeping at 3 months.
  • Still not convinced? OK more numbers. 20% of adult Americans smoke. So I hope they know they can’t safely co-sleep.
  • 34% of Americans are obese. So they also can’t safely co-sleep.
  • 9% of adults use illegal drugs and about 20% abuse prescription drugs. So they’re out.
  • Happy Dog Sleeping on BedSome large percentage of people who use comforters, have dogs or other pets in their beds, or have older siblings who may crawl into bed with them, also can’t co-sleep. BTW – this is according to Dr. McKenna the maven of co-sleeping so don’t yell at me because your dog needs to go.


So there are a whole bunch of people who right off the bat should never ever co-sleep. And my guess is that the people in Milwaukee who this ad campaign is targeting (due to high premature birth rates, drug use, alcohol abuse, etc.) are probably in large part people who should not be co-sleeping for exactly the reasons listed above. Also please note that the fine print suggests that you should call for help if you can’t afford a crib. Why? Because part of the problem in Milwaukee is that families can’t afford a crib and are putting their baby to sleep on the couch. And it ends badly.

Wouldn’t it be great if instead of this being about co-sleeping it raised awareness about the plight of underprivileged parents in poor cities? The desperate need for quality prenatal care? Wouldn’t it be great if maybe this led to increased Federal funding or even private donations to clinics and other worthy organizations? Yeah it would be. But it won’t.

But I bet their Ad Agency is going to win a bunch of awards for it. So there’s that.

{Photo Credit: TheGiantVermin }